Dumb Down To CAD from Civil 3D

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Recently, I've gotten a number of requests from people who want help getting their Civil 3D Feature based drawings smacked down to "dumb" AutoCAD and other CAD or GIS formats. This includes the still too common problem of getting your Civil 3D stuff back to LDT.

Think Smart Before You Dumb Down

Before I say anything about Dumb Down to ACAD at all, you need to consider a few other important things first.

If you send them a drawing or any digital CAD format, they can change it no matter what you do. This can be bad news. Secondly, you may also give them far More than they want or really need.

Ask what they REALLY need. ALWAYS ask what they need it for. Meet the need.

The data exchange problem can be a HUGE "unseen" man-hour issue in a project. That topic is certainly worth another post or two.

DWF or PDF IMAGE. Why not just send them an image to plot? DWF images work and they may include Layer ON/OFF control. PDF is dumber than DWF - really, but at least people think they know what they are getting.

PROXYGRAPHIC IMAGE also works for people in the same AutoCAD drawing format release cycle (e.g. AutoCAD 2010 dwg format). The end user can't change anything (good news) but they can externally reference your file, layer control it, and plot it. Unfortunately, many end users don't understand the PROXYGRAHPICS rules and how it works at all. Educate yourself and then be prepared to educate them.

Civil 3D Object Enablers - If the end customer employs AutoCAD based software in the same release as your version of Civil 3D, they can install and employ Autodesk’s free object enablers. Civil 3D files in native format can be delivered to the end user. Object enablers also allow some simple and very basic graphic control of Civil 3D Features and annotation.

As a producer, you should also recognize that only ONE Autodesk application object enabler can be installed on your end user's computer. Your end user cannot install two different versions of the Civil 3D object enablers on the same machine. Arrrgh!

LANDXML and/or Survey LandXML works to transport the Civil 3D data which may be kinder than a DUMB CAD drawing anyway. You don't control what things look like, but they get the information if that is what they are paying for. This method works for a lot of surveying firms collecting data for design teams.

"We NEVER Take Back Deliverable Drawings We Send Out"

Every firm should seriously consider this SIMPLE but effective rule. This DOES mean exactly what it says. Markups are NOT what you send out. Returned Markups should NEVER include what you sent because they NEVER have to. You have EXACTLY what you sent.

Here's a brief summary of the basic DUMB IT DOWN methods with some comments, realities and some tips as a place to start.

From Many Make One

This is the simple unspoken truth about Civil 3D to dumb CAD.

Civil 3D has complex multiple collections of objects called Features. Features are even connected to other related Features. The "Dynamic Model" has to be taken apart and published into many discrete CAD objects collected differently into the old-school Layer management system we know so well.

If you must produce editable content, you will make multiple "export" drawings, process them, and combine them into ONE DUMB CAD file.

AutoCAD Civil 3D 2010+ has a number of commands you can employ to produce raw AutoCAD dwg files. The command methods are available in the Civil 3D interface in a variety of ways – Ribbon, Command Line, etc.

All of these methods produce "representations" of Civil 3D Feature data with the intention of preserving the graphic arrangement and basic visibility of the Feature components and automatically generated Feature annotation. 

You should NOT employ these commands without thoughtful preparation of the displayed contents of the Civil 3D Feature data. 
"Export to" Styles and Sets in :Export to templates" can do a LOT to help you.
Simply pushing the SaveAS button will often produce unacceptable results from an end-user's editing perspective most of the time.

Why do  they need to edit what you are sending them?

Typically, even “simple” Points export will involve the production to two separate drawings containing different “parts” of the Civil 3D data that is displayed. For example: LDT end users expect LDT Point data in attributed blocks and the annotation objects - block symbols and text labels at Point locations all on different layers. AutoCAD users typically expect either AutoCAD point objects at elevations and similar symbols and annotative Point data again sorted "ByLayer". Civil 3D can pump out both easily.

Line work output and annotative output from surfaces, parcels, and other Civil 3D Features will simply add additional publish drawings to your final export process.

Now the DUMB IT DOWN commands... 


The AutoCAD SAVEAS command is a superset of the Civil 3D "Export to" command. The Options of the SAVEAS command are hidden away in this Windows standard dialog box under Tools in the SaveAs dialog box menu. Tricky...

BEWARE! Employing SAVEAS and changing the Tools>>Options automatically saves those changes to your CURRENT AutoCAD Windows profile. In other words, Civil 3D will save the next drawing file with these same Options (back to R14) in place until you change and use them again. Arrrgh!

Export to

"Export to" versions of the SAVEAS command that appear in Civil 3D menus or in the Ribbon encapsulate Options changes of the SAVEAS command into simple choices in lists.
There are Command line versions of the "Export to" commands available (see the Civil 3D help files).

Practically the "Export to" command will produce a picture of your Civil 3D data. Whether this is acceptable to the end user in terms of CAD Standards and AutoCAD object editing capability is subjective.

DGN Export

AutoCAD Civil 3D 2011 includes a DGNEXPORT command. This is one of those hidden wonders of 2011 that many people may have missed. The command is a subset of the AutoCAD Map 3D MapExport command. It will produce files in Microstation DGN V.7 and V.8 file formats. The DGNEXPORT command also produces attached external referenced drawings as DGN attachments too.

In general, the command will produce a reasonably good “picture” in DGN of the current state of your Civil 3D drawing. 

The DGNEXPORT command by itself may or may not produce acceptable DGN results from the end user's CAD standards or editing perspective for exactly the same reason that SaveAS AutoCAD.

Both DGNEXPORT commands require a DGN seed file (either 2D or 3D) in the “right” format. Usually, you will also have to tune the DGN export settings (stored in an ini file) to produce optimal results. Text tuning, Linetype, and Colors may also be optimized in the external Mapping Setting file.

Block to Cell rename AutoCAD scripts and a Layer to Level translation scripts or mapping setting tables also improve the acceptability of the DGNEXPORT results significantly.

Since AutoCAD Civil 3D is based on AutoCAD Map 3D, you also have the full MapExport command available which will output DGN file formats. MapExport employs the same ini file format as the DGNEXPORT command. MapExport will also produce files in a number of other formats (see the Map 3D help files for details). Map 3D also includes a BULK export capability to convert folders of drawings to other formats en mass. Therefore, BULK export is something to look into if you have entire project plan sets to punch out to DGN all the time.

It's my experience that publishing out to ACAD first and then out to DGN (unless they just need the picture) works as a better method to produce acceptable editable results.

Practice Makes Dumb More Perfect

You wouldn't wait until deliverable day to plot your Sheet Set for the first time would you? Dumb it Down is only another publish process. In a few passes you can become a wiz at it. You can save yourself and your organization a ton of man-hours too. That might be a good reason to keep you around. I'm just saying,  "More is Possible".